Crew: Marvelous May

By Columbus Alive
From the May 31, 2012 edition

April was atrocious for the Crew — a winless, impotent stretch in which Columbus managed only three goals in four games. When the smoke cleared, the Crew was 2-4-1, good for a rancid eighth place out of 10 Eastern Conference clubs. The entire roster had combined for a measly six goals all season; other players in the league had tallied more than that.

What a difference a month makes. Columbus stormed through May with an undefeated 3-0-2 record, ending Memorial Day weekend with a confidence akin to a kid who just figured out how to ride his bike.

After launching the undefeated streak with one of the few 0-0 draws that could reasonably be described as “sizzling” (it was Cinco de Mayo, after all), they got off the schneid with a pair of glorious goals to down Dallas at home on May 12.

Then came a treacherous stretch of three matches in eight days, including a West Coast road trip against San Jose (first place in the West) and Seattle (undefeated in seven previous meetings with Columbus) and a home contest against archrivals Chicago. You better believe Columbus owned that, too.

The Crew nearly toppled the Earthquakes before surrendering an equalizer in the 90th minute, transforming a triumphant road victory into a respectable road tie. They didn’t get too discouraged about it; four nights later, they made mincemeat of Seattle, defeating former Crew coach Sigi Schmid for the first time since he departed after the 2008 championship season.

There were times when this newfound swagger threatened to deteriorate into desperation Saturday — in those waning moments against Chicago, who among the Crew faithful wasn’t bracing for the Fire equalizer that never came? — but Columbus emerged victorious yet again.

Sports are notoriously streaky ventures, and contagious, too. When self-doubt and self-pity creep in, they can poison a locker room. When a hot streak strikes, even the grounds crew walks with a strut.

The Crew can thank Justin Meram for jump-starting this turnaround with go-for-broke attacking, Andy Gruenebaum for fostering it with inspired goalkeeping, Emilio Renteria for detonating it with slump-busting fireworks worthy of MLS Player of the Week.

Here’s the bad news: Due to a break for international play, the Crew won’t storm the pitch again until June 16. If this positive momentum can last that long, it might never let up.